Saturday, October 18, 2014

Monday at Angkor Wat

Monday afternoon we left for Cambodia.  We had an afternoon flight to Cambodia.  The airport in Siem Reap was built specifically for the tourist industry to bring people in to the Angkor Temples. After the Vietnamese left Cambodia, American Express came in and trained locals in how to be tour guides and how to run hotels and tourist industry places so that they would attract world tourists, and they've been very successful at that, with over 2 million tourists coming to the Angkor complex last year alone.
We stayed at the Grand Raffles Hotel d'Angkor, which is really, really nice. The Raffles brand started in Singapore, so it felt right that we should be staying there. Our driver (we had the same driver the whole time we were there) picked us up at the airport, and took us to the hotel, where we were met by the concierge (Chesda), who helped us get set up for our stay there, including our tour time. He also told Heather that in order to enter the temples at Angkor, she would need to be sure to have clothing that covered her shoulders and legs at least to the knees. Marcus also needed to be covered, to show respect, but he had the clothes he needed already.
 By the time we got to Raffles and got settled in we were in need of dinner.  The concierge recommended a restaurant called Chanrey Tree to us, and we took his advice. It's Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine with a modern twist, I think. It was a really pretty place -- we had planned to eat inside in the air con, but decided that the outside garden was so nice that we would eat outside. It's interesting to see the differences between the countries on things like service and prices. A beer in Cambodia is about US$2, while in Singapore, it is about US$8-12. The service in Cambodia was also really over the top -- we joked that you had to learn not to even look at the wait staff, because if you did, they'd come over to see "how may I be of assistance to you, madame?" The food was excellent, and local Cambodian style, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Heather had a Khmer chicken dish with lemongrass, and it was delicious.
The next morning we were up for an event of a lifetime -- touring Angkor Wat, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Our driver was there to get us around and our tour guide was really knowledgeable -- he said he'd been giving Angkor tours for 10 years. He told us about King Suryavarman II, the early Hindu kings who created Angkor Wat in the early 12th century.Here you can see our first view from a distance -- we were in awe as we approached it, and could only imagine what it was like for the people who first rediscovered these temples after they had been abandoned in the jungles for so long.
Angkor Wat is a single, massive temple complex, and it was initially a Hindu worship site. Over time, as Buddhism began to take hold, Buddhist influences could be seen, and then the community became Buddhist. Later on, they became Hindu again, and then reverted to Buddhism, which remains the dominant religion (by far) in the country today. However, as is fairly common, many Buddhists also pray to the Hindu gods, at least on occasion. It's particularly known for the elaborate towers (some of which you can see in the photos above), and for the carvings of scenes from Hindu mythology. The carvings are truly impressive, as you can see, and the building itself is amazing, especially when you realize that they used no mortar -- the stones were quarried about 50km away, and then assembled on site, and they fit together smoothly at each point. It's almost impossible to imagine the effort that went into this construction process.
We took literally hundreds of pictures, and we look forward to sharing every single one of them with you all, but for now, here are a very few highlights.
We also spent time on Monday at Angkor Tom, which was the large capital city complex and which contained several temples of its own. But that will wait for another entry.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday night here... and I have to catch up

It's about 7:30pm on Friday night as I write this.  We are back in Singapore and I am sitting in our room with a Coke and seaweed chips.  Time to play catch-up.  Saturday, the 11th I went on a hop on hop off bus tour of the city and then to the Singapore Flyer. (Seen to the left in a promotional photo.)  On Saturday when I went it was very hazy and the air quality was not good.  However, I made a go of it and it was fun.  It takes about half an hour to make the complete rotation from top to the bottom.  The individual carriages look like this below and are air conditioned so that is nice because it was very humid outside.

 This was inside the carriage and this was what the outside looked like.
The view of the city from the flyer

The view of a dinner setup carriage on the flyer as we approached the top. 

The hop on and hop off bus tour was fine... but the one thing that struck me and Marcus has mentioned it as well, is all of the construction-  Everywhere you go there is expansion and new buildings going up.  I am impressed by the rapid growth.

Sunday-  Marcus taught and I hung out at the hotel and got caught up on some rest.  I also read an excellent book called "The Hardest Peace".  Ask me about it and I would be happy to tell you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

We are back in Singapore after our trip to Cambodia and Angkor Wat. What a wonderful, awesome, exhausting trip! I can see why Heather hasn't yet posted anything about it, though I know she will soon.
We flew from Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia, on SilkAir, which is the regional airline for Singapore Air. Here's something you should all remember -- there are no places to get ID photos once you are past immigration and security at Singapore's Changi Airport. Why does this matter? Because you need a passport photo for your visa application to enter Cambodia, AND you are not allowed to leave through immigration and return in the same day, AND I forgot to get passport photos before we left. Fortunately, the Singapore Immigration Agent took pity on us, and had an Immigration Officer escort us back through security to a photo booth on the outside, and then back through security. He then mentioned "Since you have a little time, perhaps you would take a moment to fill out one of our comment cards to evaluate the service you have received today?" I was happy to do so. We had wondered whether we could just get the photo in Cambodia, but once we were there, there was absolutely no place we could see to get a photo done, so we were glad we had asked in Singapore!
The currency used in Cambodia is... the US dollar. Except that it is only as low as a $1 bill, and then for change, they give you Cambodian currency, which is the riel, and which is about 4000 riel to the US dollar. In other words, if your change is 50 cents, you'll get two 1000 riel bills. I have a few thousand in my wallet now, and Heather says she is going to scrapbook them.
We stayed at Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap. This was a big splurge for us, but we had decided to make this a special part of our trip. We were met at the airport by a driver in uniform (gloves and hat, too), and when we entered the car, we were given ice cold bottles of water and cold scented wash cloths. That proved to be a great part of the trip later, when the same driver drove for us on our touring -- getting back into that car and getting to cool off with water and a cold washcloth was pretty wonderful.
The concierge, Chesda, took great care of us, recommending a wonderful restaurant our first night in Siem Reap (Monday night). We took the tuktuk (a motorcycle pulling a passenger cart -- think of a rickshaw, but with a motorcycle up front) over to the restaurant, and had a wonderful Cambodian meal in a beautiful outdoor setting.
Tuesday we were went to Angkor Wat. I am only going to post a couple of pictures, because I know Heather will have a lot more to say, but I do have to say that it was awesome. Heather said that she had imagined it being totally in the jungle and overgrown, but then realized that, as a World Heritage Site, over 2 million people a year visit, so it isn't really hidden in the overgrowth anymore (though we did sort of see that later).
Angkor Wat is the main temple complex, and it is almost 1000 years old. It was originally Hindu. Then a later king decided that they were Buddhist now, and so it changed. Then it went back to Hindu, and back to Buddhist. (You can see places where carvings of Hindu figures were changed to be Buddhist, and back again over the centuries.) It is also the largest religious monument in the world.
Angkor Thom is a larger complex that contains temples within, but is also where the king lived. We went to Bayon temple and  Baphoun, as well as Ta Prohm and the Elephant Terrace. It was very hot, and there were LOTS of stairs, and when we would finish with a section and find a waiting car with "air con" running, and with a cold towel and cold water, I think Heather was glad that it wasn't quite as remote as we had imagined it to be.
This morning, we got up VERY early so that our driver and tour guide could take us to a temple 37km away, called Banteay Srey. It was much smaller, but also amazing -- done in pink sandstone, with truly amazing carving. I have to admit --we participated in the local corruption. The very center of Banteay Srey temple is now off limits to visitors, because too many come to the small temple, and that very important area would be damaged. But since we were there by 6:50am and no one else was there, for $5 the police officers guarding that area lowered the ropes and let us in, and even showed us around. We were the only people allowed in like that -- by even 25 minutes later, there were more people coming in, and the officers were very official then, and no one got past. But we did (and I bought one of the officers' official Police caps right off his head, too -- I know they don't make a lot, and this is part of how they get by, though it was a little odd).
The last place we went was a 10th century temple called Pre Rup -- again with stairs! But really a wonderful way to end our time at the Angkor temples.
I will let Heather say more -- and be sure to ask her about the monkeys! Oh -- and the dogs!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Marcus here

Hi all (whoever "all" might be) -- a quick note from Marcus on our trip so far. I've finished my first weekend of class, and it has gone well. I have 13 students this time around, and the class is the same one I've been doing the last few years -- Leadership and Executive Development. We've had some really great discussions, and the group is really engaged. The class meets Friday night 7-10pm, and then Saturday and Sunday from 9am-5:30pm, then we do it the whole thing again this coming weekend. But from last night at 5:30pm until Friday at 7pm, my schedule is open, and thus Heather and I are able to take our little side trip to Cambodia, to the Angkor complex, including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. I know you'll hear (and see) more about that soon.
Saturday night after class, we went over to the Plaza Singapura to watch the Dracula Untold movie. I think it was opening day or the day after. Heather loved it, and I was happy to be along for the ride.
Last night after class, I took Heather to one of my favorite little outdoor restaurants (but as I write that, I see that it really over-sells it -- it's really just a little bit larger than the typical hawker stand, and there are some chairs and tables on the sidewalk -- it's not in any way fancy). I had the murtabak, as I often do. Murtabak is a stuffed pan-fried bread, and in Singapore, it usually has minced mutton, garlic, egg, and onion, and has a spicy curry gravy for dipping. It's really good. Heather had the mutton soup, which is also very spicy. They have a lime juice drink that I really like, as well, that is served hot with ice, so that the bottom of the glass is warm but the top cold. Really good stuff, and not very expensive. For dessert, we had ice cream from another little storefront place, but it's a more local style of ice cream that Heather describes as more like frozen pudding. I couldn't persuade Heather to have the lychee nut or the durrian flavors, even though she has been really adventurous with food this trip. (I had cookies and cream, so I can't say much about that.) Of course, we could have walked up one more block to the Cold Stone Creamery -- that's Singapore for you.
This morning we're taking it easy. We'll get breakfast in the hotel in a little while, and then head to the Changi airport to fly on Silk Air to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we will be met by a driver from the Grand Raffles d'Angkor to take us to the hotel. Fair warning to all who might be visiting us -- we are taking a Cambodian cooking class tonight. As of this moment, I have no idea what Cambodian cuisine is, but I assure you that we'll be having fun learning (and then serving it to you!).
Cambodia is one hour earlier than Singapore, so for the next couple of days we will be only 11 hours ahead of Detroit/Eastern time. We'll have wifi at the hotel, so we'll post lots of pictures of our adventures exploring Angkor Wat, about which we are both very excited.
Much love to all.

Gardens by the Bay-Cloud Forest an indoor rainforest

  The Cloud Forest is essentially a rainforest under a dome, but not one based on a specific rainforest but a conglomeration of all the world's rainforests.  Plants from everywhere are included in the structure. The first thing you see when you enter the dome is this 12 story high water fall.

The layout of the gardens is each of the four levels is a different level of rainforest.  

The foliage is very beautiful, but what made the whole thing more unique was the cloud walk. Which was basically a walkway 10 stories or so up in the air.  

The view from the cloud walk of the Singpore flyer.

 Count this as a job I would not want!!!
While we were there there were several men on lines to clean the windows .

Looking through the falls

More flowers

I have so many pictures taken here that I can't wait to share with you!  Hope you enjoyed a few.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Zoos, night safari, and a merlion

Good evening- it is 8:28 and the pianist downstairs is playing Mac the Knife.  In the lobby they have a pianist, desserts and drinks in the evening.  Marcus is teaching his first night of classes here and I have a moment to update everyone on some of our travel adventures.

As I posted earlier we went to the Singapore Zoo (where we rode an elephant- I still think that was so cool).  Believe it or not there were other neat things.  Like a Lemur that was wandering around close enough to touch, though I wouldn't advise it.

Pardon the blurriness, but we weren't exactly planning an this little lemur just wandering along our path.  The zoo's approach to very naturalistic  exhibits; more than animals behind glass, was refreshing though it couldn't be done in the US as the litigation possibilities are endless.

Along with this lemur, we got to see bats up close.  While it was still early enough in the morning to not be concerned about the bats, it still makes one a little uneasy to watch them stretching and getting comfy for a day's sleep.  It was a zoo and I could probably write a whole journal entry or scrapbook a whole book on the zoo alone, but for the sake time, I will leave the zoo now and and turn to the Night Safari-  Before the doors opened for entry in the Night Safari, (Which is for all intents and purposes is a zoo as well.)  Anyway, before the doors opened, there was this show- with Fire Eaters- I have been trying to figure out how to describe them but I think pictures will help.

The show was impressive- they did the whole breathing fire thing and spinning their torches.  The whole thing was highly choreographed and really impressive.
The Night Safari was really neat it's a zoo of nocturnal animals and that in itself is pretty neat and creepy, but sadly, the photos aren't great- there's no flash photography inside the Night Safari and of course its dark.  We came back to the hotel and had dessert and with that we ended our Thursday.

This is our Friday Morning Selfie;)  Marcus humors me ALOT.  On Friday's agenda a lot of walking,
a Merlion and an indoor rainforest.  One our way to Merlion Park we met a tourism student who was working on his presentation.  He was kind enough to give us a great deal of information about the 9 bridges that span the Singapore River.  He also informed us that next year in August will be Singapore's 50th anniversary of it's independence and there will be "a great celebration".  He was kind and very informative.  Of course we had to get a picture with him.  Marcus insisted, Revenge for the morning selfie.  
We left Peter and journeyed on to Merlion Park.  A Merlion is a mythical creature as Richard told us not unlike a Mermaid.  It is symbolic to Singapore.  I am trying not give you all the details so there will be something to tell you about when I see you ;)

 And so on to Gardens by the Bay...but that will have to wait to the next entry.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Busy and fun

Today was a trip to look around the Plaza Singapore and then to both the Singapore Zoo and The Night Safari.  The highlight of the day for me was that we got to ride an elephant.  I swear I sounded like a little kid.  

Now the hard part of this is that it's two am here and I an wide awake.  I did sleep a few hours and anticipate going back to sleep.  

We actually arrive at the Concorde Hotel at 2:30 am yesterday so I have been in Singapore for 24 hours.  I will post more pictures when I won't wake Marcus up.  However, here are a few pictures of the hotel.  

These are from the website but they are really accurate.
This is what our room looks like... Not the same view however.
The second looks down on the lobby.  More later.... Going to get back to sleep- I hope